I was in Hong Kong for a week for work, and wanted to sneak in a workshop during my time there. Leather came to mind, as the first workshop which inspired me to continue on my hand-made hobby was in Hong Kong when I made my first leather wallet. I googled and came across Fungus Workshop – a quaint little workshop hidden on the western side of Hong Kong Island.
I hadn’t started off with sandals / footwear in mind, but browsing through the past students work at Fungus Workshop showed me such a wide range of possibilities that I was reminded of a pair of sandals I really loved a while back. I emailed them, to ask if it was possible for me to make a similar pair, and Philip from Fungus Workshop said that we could try 🙂 Typically, it takes 4 x 2 hour sessions to get them done, but due to my time constraints, I could only make it for 3 x 2 hour sessions, and complete the rest on my own.
In the first evening session, Philip worked with me to measure my foot size, and prepare the pattern for sandals, for us to can cut the right leather pieces. It was really interesting how we were improvising on every step to figure out how to get to a similar design to the one I had in mind (main constraints were time, hence we had to adapt to a design that was as easy to execute as possible).
Cutting very thick leather was hard work – I had pretty sore arms at the end of the first session!
In the next 2 sessions (I did both back-to-back due to time constraints), Baldwin (Philip’s colleague) helped me with the rest of the sandals. We made a couple of further design improvisations as we tried to figure out how to best execute the straps. We added a couple of studs to hold the straps together.
Majority of the time was probably spent punching holes in the leather to do the stitches – I only managed to work on attaching the straps to the sole, but had to take the stitching of the double leather soles back as homework. In between there were other steps of “scratching” the surface of the leather that would be glued to the rubber sole (for better glue adherence). This took me 4+ hours (I ran quite a bit overtime, but Baldwin was really patient – thank you!)
To leave a mark and show that the sandals are hand-made by yours truly, I asked to emboss my initials at the end of the straps.
In my haste, I accidentally embossed one of the sides the wrong way up – I suppose this really reflects the imperfect nature of hand-made products (plus no one will want to take it now)
After the final sewing (I managed to finish the stitching in a couple of hours – done in my hotel room at night + while waiting for a ferry to Shenzhen to meet a friend), I had to bring the sandals to a cobbler in Singapore to get rubber soles attached. The cobbler was intrigued by the hand-made sandals (he used to make shoes, too), but mentioned he had another customer come in recently with an ask for a self-made pair of shoes as well. Looks like the culture of making stuff is really picking up in Singapore!
Here’s what the final product looks like – I’m really pleased with it! Looks pretty close to the original design I liked, but adapted to be something feasible I could work on.
Details of the workshop
Duration: 3 session x 2 hours, with at least 2+ hours of homework (they typically recommend 4 sessions to fully complete the sandals (they can work with you to complete the cutting and gluing of the rubber sole if there’s enough time)
Price: 420 HKD (~72 SGD) / 2 hour session, inclusive of all materials –> I did 3 sessions; separately, I paid SGD 40 to a cobbler to cut and attach the rubber soles
Level of “fun”: 4/5
Extremely fun – the most amazing thing about this entire experience is that this wasn’t a fixed workshop that had a pre-defined product to be made. Philip and Baldwin worked with me to adapt the design along the way, and it’s quite an incredible feeling to look at the final output as it shapes up (given I didn’t have a clue what the end product was going to look like, except that it was inspired by another pair of sandals I liked)
Level of difficulty: 4/5
The workshop requires both patience, strength, and precision to complete the sandals nicely – thankfully, Philip and Baldwin were there to help make some refinements to my work-in-progress sandals when my cutting skills weren’t the best…As I’ve done some leather work previously, and also have some basic concept of sewing, that wasn’t too difficult for me (but I can imagine it might be fairly tedious for most)